Though the genre is rooted in the late 70's, with John Carpenter's enduring Halloween establishing many of its tropes, slasher films are one of the biggest pop culture relics of the 1980's. We recognize them instantly. The way that soundtracks, camera techniques, storytelling choices, and imagery all coalesce creates something that is distinctly recognizable to us. Night Trap, the latest series from Lion Forge Comics, written by Cullen Bunn, drawn by JB Bastos, and colored by Robby Bevard attempts to bring these elements to a comic book format. In many ways it succeeds, but a lot is going to depend on the next issue in the series. A lot of its best qualities are on what it promises to deliver, an inversion involving Kelly, who will inevitably be the "final girl".
Night Trap #1 has some heavy lifting to do in this regard. In the first issue, we get just enough characterization to know that Kelly not only is different from her friends who are with her in the rental home in the middle of nowhere, but also that she will undoubtedly survive the entire ordeal. Kelly doesn't have any interest in romantically or sexually pursuing any of the guys who have joined her friends, and she doesn't seem to have a desire to get intoxicated. According the quasi-puritanical slasher film ideology, she's the survivor. Her poor boy crazy blonde friend doesn't stand a chance.
Despite the promotional material and narrative framework that makes it clear that Kelly will not survive and subvert what is expected of the slasher world in which she finds herself, Night Trap #1 doesn't get to that point. It instead follows the beginning of the slasher movie point-by-point. There are several young adults who wind up staying together in a house in the middle of the woods, intending to drink and hook up. A backwoods sociopath and his family have set up a series of traps to milk as much terror as they can out of their victims before finally killing them. One of the guys staying in the home is sent out to turn on the water pump, because of course, and while he is out there he is the first of the group to be horrifically murdered.
That is, more or less, the first issue. It's a standard set-up, and I think that it's going to be one that makes more sense and will warrant a reread upon reading the next issue. I have a feeling that this is a set up of a very deliberate batch of tropes that are, for the most part, going to be inverted. Only time will tell if I'm right, but if it goes that way this could be a really cool book when read all at once. Bunn's writing does exactly what it is supposed to if that is the case. Everybody sounds pretty much expendable aside from Kelly. She is immediately written as the most likable and the point of reference for anybody seeking a character to connect with. He also does something interesting with the Trapper, the killer of the story. The comic opens with him watching slasher movies in his home and yelling at the screen. Unlike the characters in Scream, who yell at the victims – which makes sense given that they are the victims of their own story – the Trapper is yelling at the masked killer. It will be really interesting to see how the Trapper applies this sort of genre awareness to the story and how that gets blown up by whatever happens with Kelly.
Bastos' art is solid throughout. It's never terribly flashy, but it is very good at conveying just how alone the victims are. In particular, his use of light and shadow, as well as his rendering of the forest as a backdrop really convey the atmosphere of a Carpenter-esque slasher film. His job is just as difficult as Bunn's in this regard. There is also one particular panel early on that is just stunning as much as it is grotesque. We see the Trapper's previous victims in the Louisiana bayous, all tied down near the bottom of the swamp. The imagery and Bevard's coloring choices really make it a memorable panel long after you've finished reading.
This is going to be a comic that is made or broken by its next issue. It's solid and any fan of horror in general, and slasher movies in particular, will find a lot to like here.
Night Trap #1 comes out June 1, 2016